Borrowdale overnighter – evening

From Kings How looking south
From Kings How looking south

I did my first wild camp of the year a few days ago, in the Lake District. The intention was to camp on one of the hill tops above Honister Pass, where I hoped to get a great view of both Derwentwater and Buttermere as well as a grand panorama of big hills. The weather intervened and a gale on my chosen hill meant I could barely stand up and I certainly wouldn’t be staying the night there.

I walked back to the car and down the valley towards Rosthwaite in the Borrowdale valley. I had my eye on a small hill called King’s How. This little top barely registers on the Ordnance Survey map but I reckoned it would have good views and, being lower, less wind.

At work - the camera looking towards Derwentwater and Skiddaw
At work – the camera looking towards Derwentwater and Skiddaw

I started up from the road and soon lost the path in the bracken. It was clear that it wasn’t going to be a crowded place, the path being very vague. The wind was still shaking the trees even this low down and there was plenty of cloud, not good signs. After some steep heather bashing I found the top and two miracles. First, there was a panorama view. Second, by some freak of topography, there was a little hollow just by the top that was escaping the strong wind. By this time I could also see some sun. I decided to stay. I found an even more sheltered spot a few metres down in a little gully – very calm and discreet.

My sheltered bivvy site on King's How with Skiddaw in the background
My sheltered bivvy site on King’s How with Skiddaw in the background

The bad news was a very strong haze making everything look milky. Lots of pretty clouds but as it turned out the sunset wasn’t the best and I didn’t get many shots.

The morning dawned wet and cloudy and after poking my head out at 4am, I poked it straight back in again and went back to sleep. I haven’t sorted through the morning photographs yet but I’m not expecting much.

Washed out

I had a washed out day yesterday in the Lake District. I expected some light drizzle but it was just too much. You should never give up hope though and and never presuppose where the scenes will appear. I saw this shot as I was nearing the car, wet and muddy. I could barely see through the viewfinder because it was misted up so I’m happy with the composition.

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Try something different

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I did a walk on wednesday starting at Castlerigg Stone Circle, near Keswick in the Lake District. The weather was perfect for walking – blue skies and sunshine – but completely uninspiring for photography, especially with hazy air. I gave up any idea of taking good shots so thought I’d try something different. I set the camera to record JPEG only and tried a variety of art effects that the Olympus provides. The idea was to constrain my choices and live with the results, good or bad.

There’s a long tradition of this in art and photography. Sometimes when you have complete freedom to do whatever you want it’s difficult to decide what you want. Giving yourself constraints can free you up. In photography perhaps we have too much freedom with digital cameras and zoom lenses. Take a film camera and a fixed prime lens and choose a particular film type. If this is all you have with you then you’re forced to work within these constraints.

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I didn’t go this far, of course. My Olympus OMD-EM10 has a zoom lens (I don’t own a prime lens for it) and you can’t leave all of its options at home. So you need a little self-discipline to put it on JPEG and leave it there.

The two art effects I found most interesting were soft-focus and high-grain black and white. The soft-focus option has an added “star effect” option, and the high-grain has an extra “pin-hole” option.

The big benefit of the electronic viewfinder, of course, is that you see all these effects in the viewfinder as you compose the scene.

At the moment it’s peak time for bluebells and wild garlic. I was lucky enough to find a beautiful clump of wild garlic raised up high next to a driveway, so that the flowers were on eye-level. When you see a carpet of wildflowers you might be tempted simply to point the camera and shoot but the results may be disappointing. You still need to find a strong subject and composition to make the most of the scene.

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I thought I’d get some good shots but was nervous about using JPEG and these scene effects. If the results didn’t work I wouldn’t be able to fix them. But the soft-focus effect I saw through the viewfinder gave me some creative energy. I might not have been so inspired to look for the shots if I had stuck to shooting raw.

Later on I found some nice areas of bluebells in the woods. The strong sunshine coming through created a high-contrast scene which I would normally have turned my nose up at. Having the camera on JPEG/soft-focus made it seem less like serious photography and freed me up to take the shots anyway. The results are far from perfect, with plenty of blown-out highlights that would normally make me reject the results, but I just don’t care and I like the results.

Borrowdale and Derwentwater

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Visiting the northern Lake District I’d intended to walk round the bottom end of Derwentwater but the lake had other ideas. Heavy rain had raised the level and the paths and fields were now under water. So I tried the other way and walked to the top of the classic climbing crag of Shepherd’s Crag. There I found both fantastic views and beautifully photogenic birch trees. Continue reading